The Catholic Church is under attack again. No sex abuse scandal this time, it's just a new summer blockbuster. In Angels & Demons, the flawed but enjoyable page-to-screen adaptation of Dan Brown’s bestseller, an old enemy of the church – a secret society called The Illuminati – has resurfaced threatening to blow up Vatican City as the church scrambles to elect a new Pope. It’s another religious conspiracy thriller in the vein of The Da Vinci Code that will either earn the ire of devout church folks or intrigue cynics and non-believers.
Harvard scholar and symbologist Robert Langdon (a fairly appealing Tom Hanks) whom we first met in Da Vinci Code, is summoned back to Vatican City to solve this new church-related mystery and prevent the murders of four kidnapped cardinals at the hands of a one-man terrorist team, who allegedly has links to the vengeance-obsessed Illuminati. This group, the Illuminati, we learn, was originally made up of radical-thinking scientists some four centuries ago. Langdon, a self-proclaimed agnostic, teams up with a local scientist (Ayelet Zurer) and members of the Vatican police in a relentless pursuit of symbols and clues across Vatican City, while scores of cardinals remain locked in a conclave to choose their new leader.
With an over-the-top operatic score providing the soundtrack to some scenes, the film is a fast-paced race against time to save lives and secure the future of the Catholic Church. At times, it feels like a sophisticated treasure hunt with a trail of clues through tunnels, tombs, hidden passageways, and old cathedrals. Those acquainted with the narrative of The Da Vinci Code know that Dan Brown makes no bones about his twisty religious mysteries and conspiracy ideas – no matter how ridiculous and far-fetched they are. Hanks and Zurer turn in convincing acting but Ewan McGregor, who plays an overly devout priest who temporarily assumes the decision-making duties of the pope, arguably delivers the finest performance in the film.
Like its 2006 predecessor, Angels & Demons unleashes murder, mayhem, panic, and a barrage of ludicrous notions on religion and scientific history. It is however but a far more satisfying film than Da Vinci Code. It isn’t entirely without faults but Ron Howard, a gifted director, makes some wise choices behind the camera, putting the focus on attitudes towards religion instead of crafting an outright anti-Church statement.